The next reading in the Torah is called “Vayelech” meaning “And he went.” It covers Deut 31.1-30. As we have said before, this is the last counsel of Moses and he is 120 years old. In other words, this is his “dying declaration.”
In Deut 31.1-8 we have the concept of succession. There is no way around it, the Scriptures are violent and the Lord is going to destroy the nations that are in the land. Moses will not be taking Israel across the Jordan into the land to face these nations, Joshua will. Spiritually this tells us that Moses (Torah) cannot save us, only Yeshua (Joshua) can. Now, Moses will call Joshua publicly to succeed him, and the Torah (Moses) reveals Yeshua publicly. Moses does this so his (Joshua’s) authority cannot be challenged. Same with the Torah. It reveals Yeshua in ways that cannot be challenged by anyone else or any other religious person, book or entity.
In Deut 31.9-13 we have the concept of the written Torah versus the oral Torah of the Rabbis. In Deut 31.9 it says that Moses “wrote this law and gave it to the priest.” There is no hint of an Oral Torah here. This law was to be read every seven years in front of all the people. Again, no hint of an Oral Law (v 10-13). These verses talk about exposing our children to the Torah and to teach our children loyalty to God. This cannot be done in one day. We can walk in God’s ways before them and they will see what we do daily.
Now, the Torah is against a “divinely inspired oral tradition.” Some verses to go over about this concept are Deut 31.9-12, 4.2; Jer 8.8; Exo 24.1-12; Josh 1.8; 1 Cor 4.6; Heb 9.19; 2 Chr 30. 18; Deut 32.46-47, 27.2-8, 30.10, 17.9 and 28.58. Deut 17.18-20 says that a copy of the written law was to be written by the king and carried with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life. Deut 31.24-36 says Moses wrote the words of the Torah in a book until they were complete. No hint of an oral law.
Hilkiah found the written law and when the king heard the “words of the book of the law” he tore his clothes (2 Kings 22.8-11). If there was an authoritative oral tradition in Josiah’s day there is no indication of it. It was the written law which God used to work spiritual reform (2 Chr 34.14-30; 2 Kings 22.8 to 23.3). Josh 8.31-35 says that there was not a word of Moses (Torah) that he commanded which Joshua did not read before the congregation. Again, no hint of an oral law or tradition. Ezra read all the law to the people in Neh 8.1-18. All that Moses commanded was written on Mount Ebal on stones (Deut 27.1-4). Josh 23.6-8 says if an oral Torah existed, why didn’t the Lord command Joshua to cling to it along with all that was written?
His word is clear and each generation was to follow the written Torah as God led them. There was not to be a fixed, established interpretation (Deut 30.11-14, 31.9-13; Rom 10.6; Luke 10.26; Deut 17.9; 1 Cor 4.6). We are not to exceed what was written. Yeshua found no problem with the oral Torah when it provided helpful insights or an explanation of the written Torah, He also had no problem with it as long as it did not contradict the Torah. The rabbis say the Oral Torah is the “spaces” between the written words of the Torah. The idiom “reading between the lines” comes from this concept. But we are commanded to obey and teach Moses, not the spaces between what Moses said.
Rabbinic Judaism was not around in the days of Yeshua but there were “Judaisms.”. It showed up after the destruction of the Temple, about the same time Replacement Theology Christianity was forming. Its first rabbi was Yochanon Ben Zakkai who said, “Prayer, repentance and good works will avert the evil decree.” That is the basic foundation of Rabbinic Judaism but it is not the teaching of Moses. Rabbinic Judaism does not teach Moses, they teach Talmud, Mishnah and rabbinic thought through the oral Torah. If they taught Moses they would know about sin and the Messiah., and they would know who Yeshua is (Psa 40.7; John 5.39-47). An example of this is ritual purity, so let’s look at this one concept to see how it was influenced by oral tradition.
In the Hertz Pentateuch and Haftorahs, p. 475, it says that the purity laws were to prohibit anyone from coming into contact with the Sanctuary (Temple) in an unclean state. On p. 459 he says, “It is to be noted that most laws of purity and impurity apply only in reference to the Sanctuary and the holy objects connected with it. They did not apply in ordinary life, or to persons who did not intend to enter the Sanctuary.” And yet, these laws are still being practiced and even added onto by the rabbis and their oral traditions.
In the book, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus” by Joachim Jeremias, on p 265-266, it goes into the fact that the Sadducees held on to a literal interpretation of the Torah. The oral tradition was seen as the spaces between the words, as we have already said. The oral tradition began to have precedence over the written (Isa 29.13; Mark 7.6-8). The rabbinical “fences” moved out and out, leaving the Torah in the open to get run over by religious people and the traditions of men.
In Part 28 we will pick up here with more information from the Jeremias book, and bring out more concepts on the written Torah versus the oral Torah.